Made two trips in the early part of the summer, both carefully planned yet each turned out quite different. And so the detective work continues. How to travel with minimal setbacks so that neural fatigue from sensory overload doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into the enjoyment of a trip. I would say it takes forensic planning to increase the likelihood of a successful trip.
Flight across the country
The first trip was a thirteen day trip to the west coast of the country. A trip that involved a short car ride and a commuter train ride at both ends of a four hour flight. The plan was to make the time at our destination long enough to get into a familiar routine. On the whole the trip went very well except for one PTS trigger event that effected me for two days. That trigger event could have happened anywhere so I don’t consider it in determining that the trip was a success.
During the thirteen days away from home I was able to maintain a routine that allowed me to keep sensory loading within a manageable range. That meant I wasn’t dealing minimally with neural fatigue.
Drive across the province
The most recent trip was a nine day 1600 km road trip. To make the 800 km drive to our destination manageable we did trip over a two day period traveling about 400 km each day. The first day of driving seemed to go well most of the way. However, by the time we have covered 400 km neural fatigue had set in. That was despite planning for two pit stops. The first pit stop was at IKEA, a great place to sneak in a 45 minute nap. Consider that a promotional plug for IKEA furniture.
The second day left me even more fatigued. Two days of driving had a cumulative effect on my sensory loading. I hadn’t considered waiting a day to recover a bit before completing the second leg of our trip. When we arrived at our destination I experienced an even greater level of neural fatigue. At that point I was too tired for a physical workout, but too restless to get a good night’s sleep. An unfortunate combination.
When I’m dealing with neural fatigue it effects my sleep. The greater the neural fatigue the weirder my dreams. If my neural fatigue is in the extreme I’ll likely experience unpleasant dreams or nightmares. This happens when my brain is too scrambled to distinguish between what is reality and what is a dream.
Getting into a routine
The morning after arriving at our road trip destination I did a comfortable 35 km bike ride with minimal climbing. I had a nap following that two hour ride. I kept up this routine each morning for the next three days. It wasn’t till the third day that I was able to clear the neural fatigue. Relief came on the third day following an 85 km ride which ended with a 15 minute ride through pouring rain. It was a relief to finally feel normal again.
A few days later we were scheduled to head back home. The drive the first day went very well. It was a relaxing drive along secondary roads for most of the way. Yet this same stretch of road had left me in rough shape when we drove it a week and a half earlier.
Seeing how well the first leg of the return time went reminded me of the importance of starting a road trip with minimal neural fatigue. The focus and attention that is a key part of driving will contribute to neural fatigue. On the first leg of the return trip I also made a point of taking longer breaks. It seems like the combination of minimal traffic congestion, a relaxed speed (mostly 80 km/hr) and well timed breaks is a workable combination.
Three days later we continued with the second leg. The second 400 km leg of our trip left me with significant neural fatigue. We made two one hour pit stops. However, that didn’t compensate for the intensity of the traffic. The combination of faster speeds, multi-lane highways, and increased traffic congestion is difficult to manage. Can’t do much to work around these factors.
On arriving at home late in the day I was dealing with a heavy dose of neural fatigue. Being on home turf gives me a few extra options to deal with it besides taking out the bike and cycling for a hour or so. When I arrived home I considered napping briefly but I was too restless to manage that. Instead I walked around the yard for awhile. After about fifteen minutes I started hoeing a section of the garden building up a bit of sweat. That helps create physical fatigue which is much more conducive to minimizing insomnia.
Factors to consider
The detective work work of determining what factors most directly contributed to neural fatigue is based more on circumstantial evidence rather than concrete evidence. It is usually a combination of factors that creates a situation that puts me at my limit.
- Weather is a factor I always need to consider. When the weather turns hot, the effects of sensory loading and neural fatigue compound the situation. Even when driving a car with air conditioning, there is the non-driving time to consider.
- Both sensory loading and neural fatigue have a direct impact on the quality and length of sleep.
- When driving, the speed of the highway and the amount of traffic congestion are significant factors. Getting into a traffic slowdown or a stop and go situation is not too problematic because everything happens at a slower pace. With the pre-collision feature on the car the stress of rear ending the car ahead is greatly minimized.
- The length and quality of the pit stops. Having a familiar pit stop that allows me to take a nap is ideal. Unfortunately, the additional pit stops makes every out of town trip a bigger ordeal. That does add a level of stress to each trip when considering any other passengers in the car.
- The vestibular challenges caused by the repetitive motions associated with travelling by car are much more pronounced than travel by air. Roads with serious pot holes or concrete surfaces with section breaks are most likely to cause an accumulated affect.
- It helps to have nutritious snacks both in the car. Anything that helps to maintain my energy level is beneficial.
- Each trip involves a discussion and plan of who drives the different legs of the trip. Being a passenger contributes to sensory loading and neural fatigue in a different way than being the driver. It would make things very simple if being a passenger had a zero impact on me.
Despite forensic planning it’s becoming clear that it is not an exact science guaranteeing a foolproof solution. For each out of town trip I will continue to plan for recovery time. That means not having any commitments for the first couple of days on arriving at home.
P.S. Since I published this blog posting in the middle of my setback I want to provide an update.
It took me a full week to shed my fatigue and be able to function reasonably well on a daily basis. During my week long recovery time I had a difficult time dealing with strenuous physical activity. This included not biking at all. Of the four areas that put me at risk of neural fatigue, it’s the emotional loading and the resulting neural fatigue that has the slowest rate of recovery.
Fortunately I rarely hit a ‘perfect storm’ of several emotional events converging at the same time. One can remove onself from a social setting that is causing fatigue, or take a break from a cognitively demanding activity that is causing fatigue. However, taking a break from an emotional experience is a whole different matter. The emotions and the events that create it linger in a much more pronounced way than other matters which cause neural fatigue.